Great cheap-outs

The best table radio I’ve heard in years is the Cambridge Soundworks 705. It’s solid and friendly-looking, with an old-fashioned round dial and a nice soft feel to the reduction gears inside its knob. (All three of its knobs feel good, actually.) Sound on AM as well as FM is outstanding, especially considering its small size. It’s mono, but only through its excellent speaker. It’s stereo though the headphone jack, so you can hook up to external stereo speakers if you like. The internal antenna works well, and it has a jack for an external one if you want to inprove reception. I think it’s a bargain at $99.99 from (Cambridge SoundWorks’ website); but they have it for $20 less at the company’s warehouse store in Needham. Comes in three colors: black, white and gray. I like the white.

Also from Cambridge SoundWorks, the PCWorks speaker system has been selling for years at $39.95 or something. Right now it lists for $10 more than that. The warehouse in Needham has it for $36-something. I’ve bought maybe five of these over the years, usually for service as laptop sound systems. People are always astonished at how good they sound, especially for the money. There’s a shoebox-sized bass unit, tiny (2.5″ square) right and left speakers, and a volume control in the cord that runs from your source (typically a portable MP3 player or a laptop, but anything with a headphone jack). The speakers cables and audio source cable are all long, which makes it easy to spread the speakers far apart or to hide most of the gear somewhere. Comes in white and black.

Want cheap HDTV? Combine that PCWorks speaker system with a low-cost LCD monitor like one of these from Costco, which start at $199. Plug the two into your HDTV set-top box and you’ve got an HDTV for less than $250. That’s kinda what I did yesterday when I needed to test our new Verizon FiOS (fiber optic) installation. We don’t have a TV of any kind here, but we have a PCWorks speaker system and a ViewSonic 22″ 1680 x 1050 display that cost in the low $200s from Costco. It was a jury-rigged setup, but something of a revelation: together they look and sound fabulous.

Last but far from least, the You-Do-It Electronics Center. If you’re a hardware geek who’s lucky enough to live near Boston, this place is Shangri-La. They don’t have everything, but it sure seems that way. (Look Honey, they sell capacitors!) Last night I grazed there for half an hour (way too short a time) picked up a cheap Y connector (RCA male to 1/8″ female) and a nice Uniden cordless phone with a headset jack. Works very nicely too. You can’t miss the neon signage peering over the northbound entrance ramp to 495 I-95/128 (see comments for the correction) at the Needham interchange. Finding the store is a lot harder. Clue: take the street next to the Hess station, and just look around the industrial district behind there.

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5 Responses to Great cheap-outs

  1. Milan says:

    Whoops. When talking about You-Do-It’s location, I think you meant “I-95” (which the locals still call “128”) rather than 495.

  2. For an extra $20, you could get a Tivoli Model 1.

  3. Doc Searls says:

    Thanks, Milan. I knew better, but… whatever. I’m still no local, that’s for sure. My driving is still cautious, for example.

    And Michael, I’d agree about the Tivoli, but I think I might like the sound of the Cambridge better. The dial on the Tivoli is more precise (a pointer rather than a broad green light), and as I recall it also has right and left line out RCA jacks, which are nice.

    I also don’t know how the Tivoli does for front end overload or “blanketing” by strong local stations, but I tested the Cambridge at the warehouse, which sits at the feet of the towers from which at least half of Boston’s FM stations radiate, and there was no problem at all. By contrast, fancy receivers in the store were rendered useless by the thick local RF. It’s shameful how awful the FM tuners in those things are now.

  4. CGHill says:

    I have a brace of Cambridge’s old Model 88s, which are stereo units with a built-in subwoofer. The tuners are marvelous, both AM and FM: everything comes in where it’s supposed to, and nowhere else. And the one AM/FM simulcast in town, well, you sometimes have to look to see which band you’re on. (It’s a sports-talk outlet, and the FM is strictly mono.)

  5. PCSoundWorks++

    E. Power Biggs’s rendition of Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Yum.

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